Anti-Extradition Bill Movement Series- Three Work Sectors Which Have Suffered from Police Brutality
Since the outbreak of the Anti-Extradition Bill Movement in June, the problem of abuse of police power has become more serious, and violence (such as the excessive use of tear gas) has become common. The police have lost control, the monitory mechanism has been failing, but the government still turned a blind eye to the problem and refused to establish an Independent Investigation Committee. The unrestricted police power not only harms the protestors, but also ordinary citizens. One could be deprived of one’s legal rights, and one’s personal safety is not guaranteed. In the past few months, some workers have been affected due to the special circumstances in their work sectors. A lot of problems occurred to wage earners, which affirm the saying, ‘Even if you are ignorant of politics, politics will still come to your door.’
Armed police fire shots, cleaning workers rinse off with bare hands
In recent months, the conflict between the police and the people has almost been integrated into daily life. Many citizens have gained first-hand experience of atrocious tear gas and have learned to protect themselves. However, there is no way for the cleaning workers to avoid the circumstances since they need to deal with the aftermath. On August 11, the police fired tear gas in the enclosed space of Kwai Fong MTR station. The poisonous smoke dispersed in the station and was hard to defuse. Equipped only with ordinary masks, the cleaning workers were sent by the MTR to clean up the tear gas residue. On the evening of August 25, the police fired tear gas non-stoppingly near Yeung Uk Road. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) asked the cleaning workers at Yeung Uk Road Market to continue cleaning. The workers were also equipped with nothing but ordinary masks.
The damage of tear gas to the body has been scrutinised by many medical experts. Both short-term exposure to high doses and long-term exposure to low doses of tear gas can cause long-term damage to health. The cleaners are mostly elderly people, many of them suffer from respiratory diseases. Asking the cleaners who are without training and adequate equipment to clean up tear gas residues is a clear violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance. Up to this date, when the FEHD outsourced cleaning jobs to clean up the tear gas residues, the workers are still not fully-equipped and trained. Even rubber gloves and N95 masks were not provided to them. While the government’s propaganda says ‘cherish Hong Kong, our home’ and includes many grass-roots workers in the video clip, does the government truly care for the grass-roots workers in Hong Kong?
Police abuse power and threaten security guards to open doors
Police and civilian clashes have spread through communities in recent months. Police oftentimes enter shopping malls and housing estates to search for and arrest protestors. Consequently, security guards have often been pushed on the frontline when conflicts occur. On August 2, police broke into Park Belvedere, a private housing estate in Sha Tin and intercepted the residents. During the incident, a security guard opened the door for police to enter, which caused the residents to complain. The security company apologized afterwards, and the security guard involved was temporarily suspended. On October 7, a large number of police forces broke into MOSTown, a shopping mall in Ma On Shan. Several security guards tried to stop the police from entering for a short period, but the police forcibly pushed forward and entered eventually. The action of the security guards was praised by the public, however, the property management staff and security guards involved in the incident were arrested by the police on the charge of ‘obstructing a public officer’.
Similar incidents continue to occur. If the security guards open the door for police, they would be faced with complaints by residents and could be suspended or even fired by the company; however, if they do not open, they face the risk of being arrested. Once prosecuted and convicted, their security licenses would be cancelled. In fact, it should not be a problem if the security guards act in compliance with the law and the companies’ guidelines. Nevertheless, in reality, the police have ignored the established cases and abused their power, claiming that as long as they are investigating a case, no search warrant is required to break into private properties. Furthermore, the company does not necessarily provide clear guidance to security guards. Faced with pressure from both the residents and the police, the companies tend to ‘sacrifice a soldier to save the troop’ and give up their colleagues on the frontline.
Police fired tear gas at buses, ignoring public safety
The police’s abusive use of tear gas has not only harmed the protestors but also affected bus drivers who travel on urban routes. On October 27, ignoring public safety, the police continuously fired tear gas near Argyle Street in Mong Kok. A tear gas bomb hit Bus No. 905, which was packed with passengers. Tear smoke penetrated into the compartment and passengers were evacuated. The driver fell ill and received emergency medical treatment from the first-aid volunteer and were sent to the hospital for treatment. Police often claim that they are ‘enforcing the law’ and disperse the crowd, but even when dispersing the crowd is necessary, they should not ignore public safety and launch tear gas in crowded places or even inside the MTR stations. The truth is, the police's approach prioritises attacking the protestors over the personal safety of citizens.
In addition, on September 14 at the Lok Wah Estate Bus Terminal, a plain-clothed police refused to show police warrant card at the request of a Kowloon Moter Bus (KMB) captain, and told the captain that be would be charged with ‘obstructing a public officer’. Under the Public Bus Services Regulations (Cap. 230A), the bus captain is responsible for ensuring the safety of passengers. Plain-clothed police must show their warrants while enforcing law. The incident of police threatening to charge the bus captain involved shows that the police have been deliberately ignoring the law with the connivance of the government. In addition, the police could board the bus to intercept the passengers, only under the circumstances of withholding reasonable suspicion of crimes. However, in the past few months, the police have arbitrarily intercepted bus passengers. Without a specific person to arrest, the police got on buses randomly and checked the passengers’ identity cards. The abuse of power by the police elaborated above has placed the citizens and bus drivers in the state of ‘white terror’.